Socialist MEPs vote in favour of EU-Vietnam trade deal in face of continued human rights abuses

As protesters from the Vietnamese community in Europe voiced their concerns outside the European Parliament in Brussels, Socialists & Democrats (S&D) in the institution’s Trade Committee voted in favour of a Free Trade Agreement with Vietnam despite ongoing human right's violations which in the early hours of January 9th saw a government attack on the village of Dong Tamm, which ended with the shooting and death of 84 year-old Le Dinh Kinh, a disabled local community leader.

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As many as 3000 police officers, with the area's electricity, telephone, and internet connections cut off, moved into the village, which is at the centre of a controversial "land grab'' in which the government wishes to evict the villagers from their farm land and to hand it over to a military-run company for the development of an airport.

Witnesses described the use of "flash grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets" and the indiscriminate beating of women and elderly people.

During the incident, three police officers, Col Nguyen Huy Thinh, Cpt Pham Cong Huy and Lt Duong Duc Hoang Quan perished by fire in suspicious and highly contentious circumstances in Kinh's bullet peppered home.

Kinh's two son's, along with 20 other villagers, have been accused of causing the deaths, and are currently in jail with no access to lawyers or family members. If found guilty they face the death penalty.

Kinh's wife alleges that she herself was violently interrogated alongside the body of her husband.

They forced me to declare that I had grenades at home. But I told them I don't even know what grenades and petrol bombs are, so I couldn't make that statement. They then slapped me, and they kept slapping me. They slapped me the whole time. They slapped this side and that, and then after they repeatedly kicked both of my legs.

Mrs. Du Thi Thanh.

Before accepting the highly controversial free trade deal, the S&Ds had "worked towards and obtained important labour and sustainable development guarantees" from the Vietnamese government.

Bernd Lange, Chair of the European Parliament’s Trade Committee and S&D spokesperson on the Vietnam trade deal noted that "At the beginning of last year, Vietnam still had not signed three core ILO Conventions. Due to pressure from the S&D Group, the government has since ratified the convention on collective bargaining, passed a fundamental labour reform and committed to a concrete roadmap for the ratification and implementation of the two outstanding conventions on forced labour and freedom of association. To secure this progress and continue building on it, we voted in favour of the trade agreement with Vietnam.”

However, the Vietnamese government, which recently rejected the EU member states' recommendations during its latest scrutiny at the UN to amend or repeal abusive legislation and to release political prisoners, has a history of making such dialectical "concessions" during sensitive negotiations.

Following the January 9th incident, Australian parliamentarian Chris Hayes said. It is certainly disheartening, if not infuriating, to see that the human rights situation in Vietnam has continued to worsen, with a crackdown on basic human rights and freedoms very much intensifying,

“We regularly see those who speak out against the Vietnamese government are being charged under vague national security laws and are being thrown in prison without a fair trial,

“The Vietnamese government have shown that they are unwilling to adhere to the rule of law and are keen to oppress, jail and exile those who simply advocate for the most basic of human rights."

Hayes' words support the claim of the Vietnamese community that nothing has changed in the two years since MEPs raised their concerns.

Vietnam’s current human rights record raises grave concerns, and casts serious doubts about the country’s stated commitment to respect human rights: loose provisions on national security have been widely used to suppress peaceful dissent and jail scores of human rights defenders, as highlighted by the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights; all media in the country are owned or controlled by the government, the internet is censored and expression of dissent online is arbitrarily punished; since the Communist Party of Vietnam took power in 1954, it has never allowed free and fair elections; the judiciary remains under tight state control, as are the activities of civil society and religious groups; and independent trade unions are not allowed to operate.

Letter by 32 cross-party MEPs, dated 17 September 2018

In December, following media attention and suggestions of conflicts of interest, Czech MEP Jan Zahradil resigned from his position as rapporteur for the trade deal. It had been speculated that his relationship with the Vietnamese government was too "cosy".

Zahradil is also President of the EU-Vietnam Friendship Parliamentarian Group, an instrument often used by repressive regimes to create an image of democratic respectability within the EU institutions.

The European Parliament will vote on the conclusion of the trade deal in Strasbourg on February 11th.

Read also:

EU to vote on trade deal with Vietnam in February as human rights issues remain unaddressed

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